About 25 percent of Americans sport tattoos, according to the American Society of Dermatological Surgery, and that percentage is rising sharply. In Tattoo Machine (Spiegel & Grau), Jeff Johnson gives a salty tour of the shops that nervous mothers once forbade their sons and daughters to visit. As the co-owner of the Sea Tramp Tattoo Company in Portland, Oregon, Johnson has an up-close perspective on skin art and the entertaining people who crave it.
There's the homesick Lone Star State GI who drew a copy of his state's flag from memory for the artist to place on his skin, then returned shouting, "This ain't the flag of Texas!" Musing on dozens of cases of tattoos gone wrong, Johnson notes, "It's amazing how many people can't spell their spouse's name."
Tattoo Machine helps explain why permanent ink is on the rise. We live in an age in which we increasingly personalize our clothes, our coffee drinks, our Web browsers. Why not our very bodies?